We Won't Get Fooled Again

By Diogenes (articles ) | Mar 23, 2006

C.S. Lewis's relatively unknown book The Pilgrim's Regress allegorically recounts a young man's journey through the intellectual terrain of the 1920s (a landscape that, with respect to its spiritual hazards at least, has changed remarkably little in 80 years). In the course of his trip "Through Darkest Zeitgeistheim" the pilgrim, John, is caught and imprisoned in a dungeon of cowering Freudians guarded by a Reductivist giant. Reason, a mounted warrioress, slays the giant and offers the captives release. Only John accepts.

Then [Reason] turned to the door of the pit and struck it so that it broke and she could look into the darkness of the pit and smell the filth.

'You can all come out,' she said.

But there was no movement from within: only, John could hear the prisoners wailing together and saying:

'It is one more wish-fulfillment dream: it is one more wish-fulfillment dream. Don't be taken in again.'

I was put in mind of the wailing of these willing dungeon dwellers by a review of Robert Blair Kaiser's latest lapse into paranoia (via Amy). The villain, as ever, is the deathless Tomás de Torquemada, cleverly disguised in our times as Joseph Ratzinger:

A Great Deceiver lurks within the 250 pages of A Church in Search of Itself, and his name was Joseph Ratzinger but is now Benedict XVI (always the shape-shifter). Kaiser makes no effort to hide his disgust for the new pope: At one hyperbolic point, he writes that the then-cardinal has "wolverine rings under his eyes." When Ratzinger finally emerges as Benedict XVI to address the throngs that had gathered at St. Peter, Kaiser writes: "They had hoped for someone as wide as all outdoors. Someone like John XXIII. Instead, they got a man they only knew as narrow."

If you believe Kaiser, Pope John Paul II was little more than Ratzinger's puppet, someone whose only use was to wave to the television-watching masses; Ratzinger, meanwhile, nefariously expanded his power over the Catholic Church even as he publicly expressed no interest in becoming the Vicar of Christ. It's a bold thesis, but Kaiser nails it by merely retelling the past.

Kaiser, you remember, is the pathetic ex-Jesuit journalist whose progressivist cyber-journal died in the cradle and who, at the time of the papal elections last year, exhorted a group of U.S. feminists in their sixties to burn their bras in St. Peter's Square to attract media attention. Somewhere in Kaiser's life something got stuck.

This latest book proves that Kaiser is still aground on the same sandbar, and his invective is so ill-aimed that it rouses more pity than indignation. A man might argue that Ratzinger is gravely mistaken, but no sober scholar acquainted with both men could say that Ratzinger is narrow where John XXIII was broad -- in fact the assertion that Ratzinger lacks intellectual or imaginative breadth recoils, like the falsehoods of Susanna's accusers, upon the head of the man who made it. So what caused Kaiser's tunnel vision?

The prisoners of darkest Zeitgeistheim cry " Don't be taken in again." The "again" signifies that they were reacting to some injury received in the past. It is their inability to move beyond the wound -- whatever it may have been -- that locks them up and keeps them perpetually shackled to the pain dealt by the original injury. What moves them to alarm and expostulation is the sight of free men who are not captive to the same fear: the fear of being taken in. Again. Kaiser illustrates a comparable attitude (also visible in some of the NCR and Commonweal crowd) that takes the form of panicked fury at young people who read John Paul or Benedict at face value and who are intrigued, or edified, or even joyed by what they find. Some day I'd like to be able to ask the embittered orphans of 1965-style progressivism: what was it that you lost, what joy was taken away from you by the Church, that still hurts so badly that you can't bear to see anyone else happy in her?

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  • Posted by: - Mar. 27, 2006 8:03 PM ET USA

    I was born in 1965. Many of those my age simply want the Truth, not the story our parents gave us for why pornography, masturbation, and birth control are really GOOD for us! My mother won't even admit that these things are bringing our country to moral collapse. "Do you think we didn't have these things when I was a girl, too?" By the way, she's a "Eucharistic Minister". We aren't getting the Truth from our parents, or our priests, or CCD teachers, but from the Grace of God & the Web.

  • Posted by: MM - Mar. 27, 2006 7:07 AM ET USA

    I know it isn't the thrust of Di's piece, but a similar accusation is often made of the traditional movement - that it depends on outrage at post-VCII abuses for its continued vigor. I suppose, for a minority, their traditionalism doesn't go beyond condemnation of VCII, but I'm sure most trad minded visitors to this site would agree that attachment to what is often called 'pre VCII' Catholic practices is in fact a positive thing in itself, in the full life of the Church.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 25, 2006 12:13 PM ET USA

    If Mahony is called "Patriarch of the West" by the NCR I will swallow my own tongue.

  • Posted by: opraem - Mar. 25, 2006 12:46 AM ET USA

    i've read kaiser's book. its logic follows the 'atlantic' monthly article on 'uncle benny's' election. after his chapter on roger mahony's suitability for pope, i took the rest as kaiser's attempt at tongue-in-cheek humor. the pope needs our prayers to persevere.

  • Posted by: Clorox - Mar. 24, 2006 7:31 PM ET USA

    Leisure suit theology? Remember how popular leisure suits were in the 60s and early 70s? And do you remember how quickly they fell out of fashion and became an embarrassment? If you're old enough to have a picture of yourself in a leisure suit, well, you show it at your own risk. The concurrent pop post-conciliar theology of luv, proportionalism, consequentialism, feminism and dissent is just as outdated even if it played well at Woodstock during the Age of Aquarius. The crash and burn of D

  • Posted by: - Mar. 24, 2006 4:34 PM ET USA

    There is a story behind the bitterness which can only prompt compassion. But neither should it be turned into a stick with which to bash the Church.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 24, 2006 3:55 PM ET USA

    What is "leisure suit theology"? I'm not familiar with the terminology.

  • Posted by: Clorox - Mar. 24, 2006 10:41 AM ET USA

    Leisure suit theology lives.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 23, 2006 6:01 PM ET USA

    "what was it that you lost, what joy was taken away from you by the Church, that still hurts so badly" I surmise the answer will be 'control'. They felt they were so _close_ to being the adults, the ones who 'controlled' everything that they had hithertofore rejected, adults who knew better than their parents and grandparents and all those before them. Instead, they shewed themselves to be stuck children, unable to submit their wills to that which is greater than their narcissistic selves.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 23, 2006 2:20 PM ET USA

    "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" What causes the spittle to spray from the lips of liberals? The sight of ordinary folks making decisions without consulting them. If the best and the brightest--especially the brightest!--can be ignored with impunity how far from doom can the world be? Maybe it even needs a little help to get there.